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Archive for January 12, 2014

Cooking Lessons

IMG_2047Did I tell you that I never had a cooking lesson? And the Food Channel was a recent phenomenon that I watched when all the movie channels didn’t have a single flick worth watching. I discovered I could cook the first time I was away from home in med school.

My mother had a simple rule raising three sons. You help out or you don’t eat. So I cut, diced, chopped, and prepped for years. I had that aha moment when I realized that the final step was to throw it into the pan and voila, dinner. Rice is a challenge for everyone. I eyeball the quantity of rice and water, perfect every time. Smug, aren’t I? Who cares? I don’t starve. I do wish there was a more varied menu but hey that’s my own fault and I can’t readily fire the chef.IMG_2055

I got some Pillsbury biscuit dough and made dumplings. The dough is not expensive in NY but here it was a bit more money. Not enough money to break the deal but enough to make me decide it would be a project to make the dough myself. And it’s not always available in the super market. And it is carried in only one market that I have seen so far. Are you following me?

So the big experiment…I tried with flour baking soda, baking powder, salt and some luck. No go. The dough was tough and didn’t rise. It had an interesting color only a cook (me) would love… and eat (close eyes).

To back up one step, Pillsbury was a shortcut that has been in my memory and I think it was my mother’s invention. (Secret: She once told me Chinese cooking is easy. It’s technique. The ingredients can all be substituted depending on what’s available on hand.) But I’ve been using biscuits so long that I don’t remember the origin. It’s kind of like remembering when I first learned to use chopsticks. Who knows? You’ve just been doing it all your life. Roll out the dough, stuff it with whatever, steam it, and you’re good to go. The primary rule is that whatever your ingredients, you like them, and you will like the end result. I tried to explain this to Julia, but I’m not sure the lesson has stuck.

So I went online with a usual internet search that will virtually tell me any secret of life. And the first page of hits was how to cook with Pillsbury biscuits. No home recipe to make them. Biscuit recipes, yes! But I’m pretty sure Pillsbury is not using vegetable, shortening, butter, buttermilk, and an assortment of other ingredients that got longer and more complicated.

Then it occurred to me that Bisquick in the super market might work. Right! They make biscuits and I had seen some in the store. Of course I had seen it (memeory is still good, spelling just average) but it wasn’t available. That’s the problem. Sometimes they have stuff and sometimes not. It’s random. And a royal pain in the …  You would think that inventory in the same store chain would be consistent. No! Some stores have things that the others don’t. And the elves take extra care to move stuff around between my visits. And where you put something is random and seemingly unrelated. Grocers don’t put salt and sugar together, and the artificial (fake!!!) sugar is in another place. Come on where’s the logic?!!!

No Bisquick! Ahh… doughnut mix??? You don’t see that in NY. But, aha, it rises. I got the idea from Pillsbury’s tube which suggested the idea. ???Is it sweet? Well it’s only a couple bucks to try. It’s a bit more complicated than Pillsbury. You have to proof the dough (let it rise) three times. But otherwise it looked similar and tasted similar to the Pillsbury. Pillsbury on the internet doesn’t give out the secret recipe. Hey it’s just a biscuit. Alton Brown food channel uses buttermilk, butter, and an assortment of ingredients that had me lose interest in about 5 seconds.

Doughnuts!!! No holes. Who’s counting. At Dunkin, you buy the holes separately. I just made them together. (I don’t/figured out have a doughnut hole maker). Not bad and would be even better with chocolate sauce.IMG_2043

I steamed a batch instead of frying, which was the original point of this experiment. And the dough rose and puffed just like a Chinese char siu bow. Now and I can make dumplings in the future and not worry about Pillsbury. The next problem will be that they don’t sell doughnut mix in NY. But I got a way to make dumplings like home. Everyone needs a little home?IMG_2049

I did make the sweet potato chips while proofing. I got this recipe from Ruth Reichel, bless her. She was a critic for the NY Times a while back. I saw her interviewed wearing sunglasses and an awful red wig until I found out she was disguised so that the restaurants wouldn’t spot her and treat her extra special.

Getting the chips thin is the trick. Lisa wouldn’t let me use a mandolin (very sharp cutter, not musical) because she cut herself once upon a time. So I have used the potato peeler. It works. But the mandolin is so much faster. And I haven’t cut myself yet. Ha ha it occurs to me that Lisa might object to me using a sharp scalpel blade during surgery. I probably shouldn’t use sharp things. Two of my assistants cut me last year. Now when they hold the knife, I’m standing in the next room (kidding).IMG_2052

The nuts I made (almond, cashews, peanuts) the other day. I have a recipe that is sooooo simple. And they are now in the news as a healthy food. And for my dear wife, I swear that I don’t add that much salt and sugar. I must say that the nuts don’t last for very long when the kids are around. It seems that the Mediterranean diet is rich in nuts. That’s another good thing. I can get raw nuts easily.

And I made red lentil soup. It’s a horrible pasty yellow color so no picture. But the taste!! I used grilled mushrooms, onions, curry and cinnamon. Wow!! This was really healthy with lots of fiber and cholesterol lowering action. The problem was the bread, which came with it (yes, I bought it,… but they were twisting my arm). Balsamic vinegar, olive oil and multiple kinds of bread to soak and dip in the soup….

I fear the doughnuts won’t last long either. Mmmmm…. Chocolate sauce or cinnamon?